“Climate change undermines the enjoyment of the full range of human rights – from the right to life, to food, to shelter and to health. It is an injustice that the people who have contributed least to the causes of the problem suffer the worst impacts of climate change.”
Mary Robinson – Former United Nations Human Rights Commissioner
To highlight Human Rights Day, Ramesh Panavalli, expert in ethical trade, human rights, gender equality, modern slavery, and complex supply chains, shares insights into the global situation on human rights and how businesses should respond.
Today is Human Rights Day, celebrated as the day that the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This year the topic of human rights has been a huge focus globally with COP26 showcasing the intersection between human rights and climate change. Climate change has a wide range of impacts on human rights, primarily due to the fact that some of the most vulnerable groups are, and will likely continue to be, disproportionately impacted by effects such as changing weather conditions and natural disasters, leading to the displacement of people and threatening livelihoods. The UN Member States have a responsibility to ensure that human rights are protected and promoted. This responsibility includes mitigating the impacts of climate change on human rights and ensuring that individuals are able to adapt and survive these impacts.
The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate) suggests that human rights and climate change are linked in three main ways:
- Climate change has implications on the full range of human rights, particularly for people living in situations of increased vulnerability.
- A failure to integrate human rights into climate action can undermine people’s rights.
- The integration of human rights into climate change policies can improve effectiveness and result in benefits for people and the planet.
A changing landscape
COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference held in November 2021, highlighted how the impact of climate change is affecting the most vulnerable people globally, including indigenous populations.
Climate impact assessments and human rights studies clearly show that extreme weather events such as flooding, drought and changing weather in agricultural patterns have been the cause and spread of vector-borne diseases. Such impacts affect business operations and supply chains through damage to infrastructure, disruption of logistics and communications, and worker productivity and attendance, and affect the communities in which businesses operate. This results in direct negative impacts on people’s health and livelihoods and exacerbates other inequalities and systemic issues such as poverty, gender inequality and conflict.
Climate migrants or climate refugees are a subset of environmental migrants who have moved or relocated because of sudden or gradual changes in the local environment due to climate change. In Southeast Asia, with increasingly unpredictable monsoon rainfall and drought making farming more difficult, the World Bank points to more than eight million people who have moved toward the Middle East, Europe and North America.
“To reach 1.5 degrees Celsius and minimize climate impacts, the world must transition to a net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions economy by 2050”
Reaching net zero will require all stakeholders to contribute to a just transition movement, a concept where no one is left behind. A just transition will ensure that the future and livelihoods of workers and their communities are secured, including indigenous populations, in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Businesses including Nespresso are focusing on ensuring a just transition by implementing programmes to reduce the risks of climate-related weather incidents, improve livelihoods and create greater economic stability and sustainable future for coffee growers.
What is happening globally?
- Mandatory legislation: Mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation has already been introduced or is under discussion in several countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and has gained substantial public support from businesses. In the UK, 36 companies have called on the Government to introduce a new legal requirement for companies and investors to carry out human rights and environmental due diligence, in addition to the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Introducing mandatory human rights due diligence would help to prevent abuse of human rights and environmental harm in global operations and value chains and support the Government’s commitments to the transition to a net zero economy.
- Gender equality: The World Bank has noted that natural disasters tend to amplify both the strengths and weaknesses of a social system which, in most cases, increases gender inequality. Several climate related changes are likely to impact women in vulnerable regions such as the Pacific Islands, including the increased occurrence of domestic violence following natural disasters, droughts leaving women unable to complete domestic tasks, and increased displacement. Businesses need to think critically about the systems at the local, national, and international levels that prevent gender justice.
- Purchasing Practices: Businesses are under pressure to take responsibility for the wellbeing of their staff as well as employees working in their supply chains. Practices such as aggressive price negotiations, inaccurate forecasting, not considering climate indicators such as local changes in weather patterns, short lead times, late orders and last-minute changes put suppliers under intense pressure (ethicaltrade.org). This leads to poor working conditions, unauthorised subcontracting, and low pay for workers. Solutions include planning and forecasting, developing long-term supplier relationships, training, incorporating an understanding of climate and weather patterns of sourcing countries, providing supplier scorecards, and aligning buyer incentivisation with the human rights performance of their suppliers.
- COVID-19 and vaccine equity: The United Nations Chief has criticised the unfair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, pointing out that just 10 countries have administered 75 percent of all vaccinations. It is good practice for businesses to of both their staff and supply chains. More than 4.6 million people have died from the virus, and everyone needs equal access to vaccines.
- COVID-19 and gig economy: The ‘Gig Economy’ has developed increasingly following COVID-19, and involves flexible work through the self-employed model within the service industry (e.g., taxis, courier services) where workers are not contracted as they would be regularly, meaning that they don’t have the same rights and benefits that regular employment contracts would require. Some of the issues faced by those working in the gig economy include reduced job security, low income, and excessive or low working hours.
How can Anthesis support?
Anthesis brings leading expertise, tools, and resources to drive climate goals forward. We offer an opportunity to accelerate progress by deploying clear, effective, and targeted supplier engagement and support. Anthesis can support with:
- Human rights impact assessments
- Supply chain due diligence, validation, verification, and auditing
- Support on the Modern Slavery Act, human rights and corporate policy guidelines
- Updates on global human rights legislations and salient risks
- Reporting and disclosure
- Purchasing practices and capacity building
- CSR and procurement programmes
- Strategy building
- Remedy and grievance mechanisms
Call to action – a clear climate and human rights strategy
A business may affect people’s human rights through its business operations or through relationships with its stakeholders. Businesses should understand how they impact people within their supply chains and should adopt:
- Design policies, strategies, and programmes: Businesses need to prepare for and address these impacts to avoid an uncertain future. A foresight-driven approach should be taken to factor the changing macro context into the design of robust policies, strategies, and programs aligning human rights and climate change.
- Salient risks: Businesses should identify, prevent, avoid, and mitigate any salient risks to people from the issues arising from climate impacts with proper remediation strategies through tools such as human rights impact assessments and due diligence.
- Build capacity within the organisation. Establish training and development on ethical trade, human rights, gender equality, purchasing practices, modern slavery, ensure health and safety, as well as creating grievance mechanisms and worker representation models for global supply chains.